Category Archives: Home Education

Comparing Cyber School to Traditional Homeschool

First, let me just say, aside from taking place mostly at home, there is not much similarity and in my opinion, no comparison between cyber charter school and traditional homeschooling.

By “traditional homeschool” I’m referring to planning your own curriculum, lessons, schedule and goals for the year. For the first year in more than 10 years of homeschooling, all of my children are enrolled in a cyber charter school.

Hannah decided not to go back to the performing arts charter school she attended for 2 years because the 3 hour commute each day left her no time to pursue other interests-even her art (ironic, isn’t it? She had to leave the art school so she could create art).

So, here we are after about 9 weeks of cyber school for everybody. We didn’t have as steep a learning curve technically as we did last year. While there have been technical issues, we’ve dealt with them pretty well.

Since I oversee Mark’s classes most closely, I’ll give you my impressions.

Originally, Mark was scheduled for 4 “virtual classes”, Science, Math, Language Arts and Social Studies. Virtual classes meet at a scheduled time and each of his were M-F. The idea of him sitting in a chair staring at a screen for 4 hours every day really bothered me so I was able to convince him to switch to a self-paced Social Studies class before the first day of school. After less than 2 weeks of a virtual math class, I also switched him to a self-paced format because I felt that they wasted a lot of time. His lessons for the entire semester are available and he progresses through them, basically one lesson a day. That’s the goal anyway.

He really enjoys the virtual class format, where a teacher and “white board” is visible and there’s a chat box where the students can ask questions or participate when asked. A student can also write on the white board when the teacher gives rights to do so.


Here’s a screenshot of one of his class recordings:

Virtual class screenshot

Screenshot of one of Mark’s virtual classes

Nearly every day in each of his virtual classes, teachers put the kids in smaller groups called “break out rooms” where they’re supposed to complete a worksheet or problem together. I understand the whole “cooperative learning” principle but honestly, I think these are a huge time waster and they’re often misused. In the beginning, the kids weren’t sure how to progress and Mark got frustrated and anxious trying to participate. As the year has progressed, Mark is proving to be a leader taking charge in break-outs. He prefers not to work with other boys because he claims that they usually don’t know what to do. When he gets the chance, he’ll request to work with a girl in class who he knows will work fairly and equally. I still think teachers use them to fill time.

I was getting frustrated with Mark’s math class. In the first 3 or so days, the teacher went over about 5-7 problems in each class period. Mark did a lot of waiting and watching. He didn’t mind but I couldn’t bear it any more so I switched him to self-paced. He’s progressing on or ahead of pace. It’s great to be able to move quickly through the concepts that he already knows or picks up easily rather than waiting for the teacher or other students.

Overall, I’m not impressed with this way of “learning”. I don’t think it’s unique to cyber schooling. I think public schools use the same methods. (Read a couple of pages of text, answer the questions..hint, hint, see that gray box? Your answer is right in there. Reword it so it isn’t plagiarism and plow through as many lessons and units as possible. Feel very good about it all because you mentioned “Inuit”, “Aztec”, “mean, median and mode”, “order of operations”, “vertebrate”, “cartilagenous” and some other stuff, design a tricky quiz just to make sure everyone caught that obscure fact and call it education).

I went to a public school and I didn’t think it was great but I think it was a little more challenging and required more independent and creative thinking. Great teachers could make a difference then. Now, everything seems to be scripted, every assignment is accompanied by a “rubric”. I understand the attempt for objectivity but there’s absolutely no room for creativity, spontaneity or innovation. Lesson, worksheet, go over worksheet, quiz, repeat.

Plagiarism is obviously a huge problem because there’s a lot of emphasis on it in the beginning and throughout the year. In my view, the way the textbooks, worksheets and quizzes are set up, it’s nearly impossible NOT to plagiarize. For example, Mark might have a question in his self-paced Social Studies class that requires a short answer. It’s obvious that it requires information directly from a specific paragraph in the book and often the information is so specific, it’s nearly impossible to reword it.

Overall, cyber school isn’t very challenging but there are a few benefits.

The biggest plus for me is the independence and outside accountability. Mark needs the most guidance but I’m expecting him to become more independent as the year goes on. For the most part, Hannah, Luke and Kate complete their assignments and classwork (if applicable) on their own. While the academics aren’t very demanding, the structure has been good for all of us.

Some of the kids have worried over the years that they would struggle with the workload or would be behind if they went to a conventional school. The experience of completing assignments on their own and keeping up with the pace has reassured them that they would do fine. Mark has to get a little more independent since he’d like to attend the public school next year, but they all feel good about meeting their teachers’ expectations and doing well.

I also appreciate how much writing they’ve had to do. They basically employ the 5 sentence paragraph method all around but it’s very effective and they’re all becoming more comfortable with writing just by being required to do it fairly regularly. Hannah’s always been a confident writer but the others have not been naturally inclined to express themselves in writing. It’s been challenging for me to require the others to write over the years. It’s an accountability issue. I’ve been happy with the amount of writing that has been required and their ability to produce quality or adequate writing.

I think one reason the 3 younger kids are so comfortable writing now, even though they haven’t done a lot of it is that we’ve read, listened to and talked about lots of books. I also had them do a fair amount of copywork and narration from the time they started school. These two simple practices are so simple to implement and are so effective in preparing kids for writing on their own. Although I haven’t been as consistent and habitual with copywork and narration as I would have liked, all the kids have done a lot of it over the years with a variety of source texts and think it’s helped.

Cyber school has offered a nice mental break for me. I won’t mind if all the kids decide to go back to a traditional type of homeschool for junior high and high school but for now, this is working for our family. Have you considered cyber school for your children? Do you even have access to it in your state? Have you ever tried it? I’d love to hear about your experience. If you have any other questions about it, feel free to leave a question in the comments.

cyberschool review

My Review of Cyber School

cyberschool review

Our Experience With Cyber School

You may or may not be aware (or care) that I have homeschooled since my oldest was 5. As she was approaching high school, she was wanting to explore other options. She shadowed at our local Catholic school where a lot of her friends were enrolled and ultimately decided to try a performing arts charter school about an hour away and she’s been happy there.

Last year, Luke and Kate were also ready to try something different. They wanted to know that they could handle the workload in a conventional school. We have never used textbooks or worksheets and the demands of a public school schedule are just different. In spite of having plenty of friends at our local public school, neither of them were anxious to go there. Private school is not an option for us at this point, so cyber school was the obvious answer.

There are at least 12 cyber charter schools available in our state and no matter who you ask, there are positives and negatives to every one.

Since Hannah’s school is under the umbrella of PaCyber and Kate is thinking about going there, I thought that was an obvious choice. I chose a different school for Luke which I’ll explain below but let’s talk about PaCyber first.

I attended an open house at one of their sites where they offer tutoring and enrichment classes and had a chance to watch a presentation and ask some questions.

They offer both virtual classes and self-paced or a combination which was what Kate did. She logged in to math class twice a week for an hour and a half with a teacher and science three times a week for an hour. She chose to complete English, Art, and Social Studies at her own pace. Gym also was self-paced. She just recorded her activity on a log and submitted it at the end of the semester.

The first 2 weeks were challenging getting used to the technology. Her virtual class teachers were great but assigned a lot of short projects for homework which acquainted the students to the technology. This was helpful but also could be frustrating and redundant. For example, they both assigned an “about me” Powerpoint presentation with different criteria. It was fine but since the point was to familiarize the students with the software, I thought this could be coordinated more efficiently. For about 2 weeks, I found myself running from Kate to Luke trying to help them with these technology projects on top of their course work. It was frustrating but they shouldn’t have the same frustrations next year.

Kate had a brief orientation where she received her computer, got an ID photo and learned a little about the school. They did not test her until the school year started and she completed that online. They used that information to determine whether she could benefit from extra support in math or reading. That extra help was available but not mandatory.

One thing PaCyber is doing (and maybe others are doing as well) is offering enrichment and art classes at various sites around the region. They call it “Clicks and Bricks”. They also offer tutoring and homework help. For parents who have to be away while their child needs supervision, this is a nice option. Kate took a beginner guitar class once a week and really enjoyed it.

Each student is assigned to an instructional supervisor who orders the appropriate classes and is the main contact person for the family. Basically, he was a guidance counselor. I was so impressed by his enthusiasm and genuine love for education and passion for teaching. He is a math teacher by training and offered tutoring for his students. Almost every time he called to check on Kate’s progress we ended up discussing education in general. I can’t say enough about his help.

Since math isn’t one of Kate’s strengths, I chose a virtual classroom for math and science.  I knew she was behind her peers in that subject. In spite of her unfamiliarity with most of the content I’m happy to report that she did great in math and is definitely on par with her peers now. Her teacher came highly recommended by her I.S. and he suggested that she would benefit from his style and expertise and he was absolutely right. She ended up with a solid 93% for the year. The accountability and forced practice and challenge was key to her progress. She did just as well in science. I haven’t received her report card for the other 2 classes. She had As in the first term and Bs in the second, I’m not sure how the actual numbers will shake out. For some reason as soon as the first sememester ends, those courses disappear online-even the scores.

We learned that Kate responds much better to the regular accountability provided in the virtual class setting so she’ll have all virtual classes next year. As appealing as it is to be able to finish early, it just wasn’t realistic for Kate and in retrospect, we probably should have switched mid-year. But it was a valuable lesson and I think she’ll enjoy the freedom that a schedule provides next year, if that makes sense.


Moving on to Luke’s school, Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School or “PALCS”. As I mentioned, I chose a different school for Luke. I took part in a virtual chat and learned that his school provided different levels within the grade for each subject. One of my concerns was Luke’s confidence in writing, in particular and Language Arts, in general. While Kate’s school accommodates this difference by placing the students in a different grade level, I don’t think either of the kids would have responded well to being placed in a lower grade for any subject. The other difference is that Luke’s classes are all self-paced within boundaries. All subjects have an optional chat or online meeting with the teacher. His math class met 4 times per week, the other classes met once a week. In the beginning he was attending all of the chats and enjoyed it but once he was familiar with the technology and the procedure for taking quizzes and submitting assignments, he only went to chats when he needed them (read-rarely).

Luke experienced the same technology frustrations in the first 2 weeks. What made it particularly frustrating was that his school required both the student and the parent to complete a virtual training course online for 3-4 hours before the official start of school. I did complain that it was redundant and a waste of time. In general, learning the steps of a task is useless until its relevant. Both Luke and Kate eventually learned how to upload, scan, create and submit power point presentations, use other software for assignments and independently handle all the technical aspects of interacting online.

Luke’s assignments would open up a week or 2 in advance which allowed him to work ahead a little. He worked a couple of hours in the evening on the next day’s assignments and worked an hour or two in the mornings completing the day’s assignments. He usually had little or no work to do on Fridays and most of the time would work ahead for the next week. Every 3 weeks he had progress checks and all assignments were due up to that point which provided great accountability. The format of Luke’s school was a great fit for him. He also did very well making honor roll for all 4 marking periods.

I think most homeschooling parents wonder how their children will adjust to the course work in a traditional school if they have to make that transition unexpectedly or otherwise. I call it Mack truck anxiety…”how will my children perform if I’m hit by a Mack truck some day and they’re thrown into a school setting?…have I ruined them?” I was glad to see that they adjusted fine. More importantly, they both know now that they wouldn’t struggle academically if they had to go.

In general, it was a relief to have a break from planning their curriculum. While they both progressed in math, writing and adapted well to the more formal environment of completing lots of assignments, I still think they both plowed through material and didn’t necessarily learn a lot in science or social studies. At least not much that they’ll be likely to retain. But I didn’t either when I went to school. Maybe its just the nature of textbooks. To be fair, though, they probably don’t remember a lot of particulars in those subjects from our home schooling-sad but true. I will say, though, that they all (including my other children here) seem to have a good sense of things. I think because we’ve read a lot as a family, listened to hundreds of audio books and they’ve read a lot on their own, they are very well-rounded. I can’t disagree with a few friends who complained that they didn’t like all the busy work their children had to do for cyber school. I don’t think this is any different from traditional schools-especially in the elementary grades. I characterize it as volume over value.

The enrollment process is identical for both schools and would be similar to enrolling a child in traditional school. I also had to enroll the children with our local school district, which was annoying but painless.

Both schools provide tutoring and extra support either in the form of a chat or office hours with your teacher, another tutor or videos available on various subjects. Kate’s school is compiling a database of video content for tutoring and extra help. Not surprisingly, both schools gear up for standardized tests and have assessments and study aids for that purpose. Luke’s counted toward his grade, Kate’s didn’t. I wasn’t that impressed with the platform that Luke’s school used. Speaking of standardized tests, both had convenient locations for testing and they made it very clear about the procedures for reporting and what to bring. Luke’s provided a continental breakfast if that matters to you.

I also felt that both schools have enthusiastic staff who generally seem to love what they do. I was surprised that a virtual class or chat room was a lot like a regular classroom. There are still disruptions, teacher’s pets, kids who do all the work in a group situation and kids who dodge it. For the most part, both Luke and Kate were able to tune the distractions out.

Both Kate and Luke are looking forward to continuing cyber school. Mark wants to try it next year, too. It will be different for me not being responsible for any planning or upkeep or filing but I’m sure the 3 of them will keep me busy regardless.

I hope this post has answered some of your questions about cyber school. I would be happy to answer any other questions you have. Just leave a comment or click on my contact page and reach me through email.

I’d love to hear about your experience with cyber or charter schools and how you think it compares to homeschool or traditional public school. 

May Earnings Report-Used Homeschool Books

I thought I’d post another update on my efforts to sell used homeschool books, maybe it will encourage you to try it. If you recall, I began this little project mid March. In the last 2 weeks of March, I cleared about $80. Then, in April, I earned close to $400 selling books mostly on Amazon and Cathswap, which is a moderated yahoo group.

May was another productive month in my efforts to purge some of our no-longer-used homeschool materials and recover some value for them. In spite of taking a break from posting additional items during the 3rd week of May, I earned almost $340.

I would think that spring is a popular time to purchase homeschooling materials and this may have boosted those numbers. I also tried to keep prices fair and take into consideration how old the edition was in spite of its condition and whether I got multiple uses out of it. I find it highly unsatisfying to make a trip to the post office if I’m only making a few dollars on a book, so I tended to list higher value items or bundle low value items in one lot.

I will continue to list things and will likely try to limit my trips to the post office (that’s part of what burned me out that 3rd week in May).

In addition to the resources I listed in my first post on this topic, I have since discovered another forum which allows the sale of used homeschool materials. The Well Trained Mind has a well-organized, easy-to-navigate board for discussing homeschool issues and selling used homeschool items. In order to minimize spam and fraud, however, they require a 50 post minimum before listing an item for sale. I think this does protect the members and boosts member confidence on both sides of the transaction. Although I would have happily participated on the board as another homeschool resource, I’m not interested in spending time doing that at this point and can’t vouch for the activity there. I’m sure it’s a valuable resource, though.

I’d love to hear whether you have tried selling any homeschool books. Please share other ways to get rid of used materials.

Another Thought-Provoking TED talk….NEVER DISAPPOINTING!

Thanks to Elizabeth for linking to this in her sidebar, otherwise I might not have seen it for a while. I have not heard Sugata Mitra before but might just have to see what else he’s been saying about educating children…especially those who are poor. As he contends, our current educational system is not broken….it’s outdated. Let me know if you disagree after you watch.

If you can’t see the video, click here.

Here’s a link to download the SOLE toolkit.

Selling Used Homeschool Books-(Another Update to encourage you)

I did not sell these….they were donated to the library years ago

I thought I’d give you another update on my efforts to unload homeschool books that we no longer need. If you’re like me, you want to know what your efforts might be worth. If you’ll remember, the last 2 weeks in March, I earned about $80.00. Last week, I sold a couple of books on Amazon and earned about $38.00 after postage. I also sold a few things on Cathswap for a total of about $90 after postage. Not too bad. The one item I sold on Cathswap was brand new, still in the shrinkwrap and I actually took about a $20 loss on it. But I purchased it 2 years ago at a conference and was having no luck selling it locally or for more, so I’m fine with it.

The other sale was a bundle of books that I didn’t think would be very valuable individually and would have been a pain to mail separately, so that worked out. They’re all good resources but I doubted I’d be reading them again.

By the way, I am keeping good records of everything I sell. I don’t expect to earn enough to owe taxes but just in case, I don’t want to be scrambling to recreate the information. If you’ll be selling lots of books, you might consider doing the same and keeping the receipts from the books you purchase. I did that for a long time then quit but I’ve purchased a lot of books on Amazon and it has a record.

So, have you tried it yet? I’d love to hear your best tips for selling used homeschool books (or anything).

*DISCLOSURE: The Amazon link in the post takes you to my Amazon store. If you purchase any of the books in my store, I receive the proceeds of the sale less any commissions collected by Amazon. If you click the sidebar and purchase any of the books through those links, you will not pay extra and I’ll receive a small commission from Amazon. No worries, I’m not expecting to get rich this way. I just love books and love to share my favorites.

Selling Used Homeschool Books…An Update

Just to give you a little encouragement, I decided to report my earnings from selling used homeschool books. In the last 2 weeks of March, I earned almost $80.00. That’s after shipping and paypal fees. Not too bad, right?

If you are going to list on Cathswap (yahoo group), I have since realized there are a few guidelines including a list of publishers and titles which are prohibited because they are notoriously anti-Catholic. Also, there is a limit of 3 posts per day. I didn’t realize this and probably violated that rule but I’ll respect it next time I post.

People also post “Wanted to Buy” messages. This can be a good way to unload materials if you don’t feel like posting or just want to get your feet wet.

If you’re determined to sell anything in particular, I think it makes sense to post on Thursday or Friday. Also, you might want to repost to keep it high on the list. Posts get buried quickly.

A friend once gave me a good tip: books can be packaged in used paper grocery bags. It’s a good way to save on shipping cost and recycle. Unless the cost of standard shipping is within a few cents, I almost always ship items (permanently bound books, CDs and DVDs)”media mail”.

Hackschooling with Logan LaPlante: Another Inspiring TED Talk

I could click around TED all day. Watch this Tedx University of Nevada talk given by 13 yo Logan LaPlante about his unique and innovative version of education with one simple goal in mind: happiness.I will definitely be showing the kids this video. Just when I thought our homeschooling was phasing out….this boy makes me want to reevaluate, bring them all home and continue learning together.

He even gives a s/o to my favorite talk of all time by Sir Ken Robinson.

Do you agree with this notion of education? Do you agree that happiness is a legitimate goal? Do you think traditional schools should or could spend more time focusing on these “TLCs” that Logan mentions? Leave a comment.


I thought I’d explain my characterization over there on my side bar about “semi-homeschooling”.

I have been homeschooling my 4 children for more than 10 years. I consider myself a “semi-homeschooling mom” now since 3 of the children are enrolled in charter schools. My 15 year-old daughter has been attending a performing arts charter school since 8th grade. My middle children wanted to try cyberschool for different reasons. That leaves me “driving the bus” for my youngest, who is 10 and considered in the 5th grade.

A lot of people are curious about our experience with public school and cyber school. Overall, it has been positive. Hannah loves her high school. I wouldn’t say it is academically challenging. She’s smart and I know she could be challenged more. But she went there to pursue art and she’s getting that. To a certain extent, her art classes aren’t challenging her but she’s had to suffer through some intro classes. I’m hoping that next year the art will be more challenging, otherwise, her investment in time just isn’t worth it. True that there are influences there that aren’t the greatest but Hannah has a pretty mature perspective. Being home for so many years has contributed to that.

I enrolled Luke and Kate in 2 different cyber schools. Kate would like to go to Hannah’s school eventually which is a satellite of her cyber school. Kate’s school offeres virtual classes, self-paced classes and a mix. She has science and math virtual classes and English, Social Studies and Art self-paced. The biggest challenge has been organizing her time. The school is flexible so I could switch her to all virtual at any time or all self-paced, but I’m not sure that would be advisable.

I chose Luke’s based on the description of various levels within each subject area to accommodate different strengths and weaknesses. I’m not sure the content is different but the level of support is. He can work ahead in his classes and is not required to attend chats (think facetime or skype where the teacher, a board or slide and a list of students and their comments are all visible on the screen) but they are available if he has specific questions about the lesson or assignments.

Overall, both cyber schools have a lot of support, both virtual (videos, websites, slides) and in person (phone, email or chat). In my opinion, both present a lot of busywork and don’t foster innovation and creativity but I think this is true of any conventional school. Luke appreciates the accountability more than Kate. She would rather not be bothered with work that she doesn’t think is interesting or relevant.

Being an artist, I thought Kate would struggle a little in math and science but she has really responded to the challenge that the virtual classes present.

For the most part, I have been able to help them when needed with math but they are quickly approaching topics that I either don’t remember or never had. Sometimes I’m willing to refresh my memory but if I have to learn a thing from scratch, I generally tell them to work harder or watch the lesson again. Both have access to recorded chats and classes.

What about Mark? Since he’s the only one who really needs my attention, he completes his work fairly quickly. Luke’s not readily available to play with him. He’s considering attending the local elementary school or trying one of the cyber schools next year. I think he’s adjust fine to either but I’m here if he wants to stay home, too.

It’s That Time of Year Again! March Madness!

From the Archives: I don’t have much to add to this-except since Mark now works on Thursday and Friday, it’s not a whole day off and the kids (boys especially) have been scrambling to get their regular school work done in order to become couch potatoes starting at noon.
Who doesn’t love Mach Madness? I’ve loved the excitement of everything leading up to it and the tournament, itself since high school back in the “Phi Slamma Jamma” days. I didn’t start filling out brackets until graduate school and only then discovered how it made you care about ALL the games-not just your favorite teams.As a mom, I still fill out my bracket. I don’t watch all the games, but I’ll sit down here and there to catch some of it. I love how it unites the family in a shared experience. Even Kate, who has no interest in the X’s and O’s of any sport, makes her picks and likes hearing who wins and loses. I think last year, she almost won the 6 bucks!

The Thursday afternoon that the tournament starts is one of the times that I love that the kids aren’t in school. Tip-off 12:20, pick your seat, grab the snacks. I’ll go to the mat defending this experience as education-though I don’t count it since Thurs. and Fri. are our typical weekends. This is the type of 3-D, real-world, delight-driven learning that grows the brain.  Handwriting, spelling, reading, math (what are the odds of Robert Morris winning the tournament, what’s the score-how many does RMU need to tie it up?) social studies, (wonder how Chief Kicking Stallion Sims got his name), physiology, language arts in its most applied, authentic form, all integrated naturally by the conversations that go along with it and topped off by the more frequent trips to the driveway hoop during time-outs and half times. Mind you, I don’t instigate or hijack any of the above naturally occurring “educational” moments, they happen spontaneously and usually without any input from me. I would never ruin the experience by trying to schoolify the tournament, I’m just saying they’re learning.

Admittedly, I don’t have much wisdom to offer to the chatter and pontificating since I don’t follow basketball all season but I love to listen to the conversations. I’m telling you, neurons are firing and brains are growing because its relevant. Maybe not relevant to the world-at-large, but March Madness is relevant to our world for the next 2 weekends and I’m grateful for the tradition.